It was in March 2022 when FLO took the world by surprise. You’ve probably heard “Cardboard Box” on TikTok or on a Spotify viral hits playlist — not only did it make quite an impression with its flavorful hook and buttery harmonies, but it also had listeners yearning for the simplicity of early aughts R&B-pop. The group has since released one earworm after another, filling the girl group void that continually pervades Western music.
Social media virality, a BRIT award, and a growing Filipino audience all within their debut year puts FLO on an upward trajectory. But the group’s success story is part of a bigger and equally exciting movement. The UK R&B scene is steadily making itself known; although always present, it was only recently that the world started paying attention. Now a hotspot for globally promising acts, it is unlikely that FLO will be the last ones to captivate us.
Women are some of the most notable frontrunners of this scene. With the likes of Ella Mai and Jorja Smith earning well-deserved recognition across the pond, there is no doubt that their lesser known yet distinctly talented peers have just as much potential up their sleeves.
Here are some on-the-rise UK R&B acts to watch out for:
North Londoner Bellah is a 25-year-old singer-songwriter with more wisdom than her age suggests. Her latest project, Adultsville, is an introspective look into the tail end of one’s coming-of-age; slow, hypnotic 808 beats carry her soft vocals as she mulls over the complexities of “adulting” and what that process really encapsulates. The seven-track EP feels like a series of diary entries that she has entrusted her listeners with, and we’re so glad she did. For those of us approaching the same turning point in our lives, Adultsville is a must listen.
Listen to “In The Moment,” one of the singles off of Adultsville.
Despite making music since her adolescent years, it took immense growing up for Mahalia to finally conquer the UK’s music industry. 2019 marked a turning point through her debut full length effort Love and Compromise, and one need not listen to all 13 songs to conclude that her return was a long time coming. A single listen to her bold, hard-hitting collaboration with Ella Mai (“What You Did”) or her post-breakup anthem (“I Wish I Missed My Ex”) reveals her penchant for genre fusion, with colorful instrumentals giving these hits a playful spin. Such a signature sound is an eclectic showcase of her musicality and we can’t wait to see what she does next.
Listen to “I Wish I Missed My Ex,” from Love and Compromise.
On the experimental side of the UK R&B spectrum is Nao. The East Londoner has entranced others with the highs and lows of her vocal range by singing over passion-driven, nearly abrasive arrangements. This is what she explicitly dubs as “wonky funk,” where elements that normally contrast with one another are meshed seamlessly and sealed tight by her harmonies. Even as things are stripped back in songs like 2017’s “Blue Wine,” that elusiveness is ever present and unmistakably hers. Five years and three albums later, she continues to outdo herself.
Listen to “Messy Love,” the second track from her 2021 album titled And When Life Was Beautiful.
Raye’s February 2023 album comes on the heels of a long and tireless battle with her former record label. Now an independent artist, she is shining brighter than ever. The slew of singles she’s released over the last few months is a celebration of sorts — welcoming her glory days as a fuck you to all the people who held her back from the world. One may surmise that her latest single, “Escapism,” was written during those dark times, but she sings unabashedly of these struggles as a marching beat carries her through. At the pace Raye is going, her road to success is inevitable.
Listen to “Escapism” from her upcoming album, My 21st Century Blues.
Marypaul Jostol is a Rappler intern for MovePH. She is a Communication Arts major at De La Salle University.